SaveOurSoul interview with Donnie
13 December 2002
Donnie's debut CD "The Colored Section" has recently been released and has gotten rave reviews from almost every critic on the planet. He's been compared with Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye and is seen as one of the most talented new artists of recent years. When we from SaveOurSoul spoke with Donnie, there was an ice storm coming up, but Donnie did not want an ice storm, so he was not expecting it. The ice storm came anyway.
The Colored Section
The title of Donnie's debut CD "The Colored Section" caused some reactions. He got reaction from people that know right of what the colored section is and are from African descent in America. Those people really responded in a very warm manner. Some people cried, which didn't surprise Donnie because he knows what they are feeling and to see that type of symbol in this day and time in a name of an album, those people enjoyed that. But there were numerous people that wondered what the colored section was. That was a question he had to answer a lot. The title comes from the Jim Crow era, that was the time after slavery (1870 - till 1967) when American negroes were let out of slavery and they had a set of laws all over the United States that were against negroes, which was against the constitution. The could not sit and eat in certain places, could not use certain bathrooms, they could not vote until the sixties. That was the colored section. But to Donnie the colored section is much more, he likes to repaint the colored section. He wants it to be a hip place to be instead of a place people do not want to go. The colored section is the United States of America.
On the CD "The Colored Section" there is a wide variety of music, such as funk, gospel, ragtime and even samba. Donnie was just like everybody else introduced to music by his parents, who were listening at that time to Lou Rawls, The Emotions, Ramsey Lewis. In the eighties his parents went back to church, both of them became preachers, so he would hear more gospel. But Donnie has always listened to the radio and watched MTV. He is from the MTV-generation and he listens to all types of music. Donnie was influenced by contemporary gospel artist like the Clarck Sisters, Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the Winans. Even though he is compared to Stevie Wonder a lot, Stevie was not Donnie's major influence. Although he was an influence just like Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, to whom Donnie is related.
Donnie is not afraid to address isues like rasicm, age discrimination and poverty. It is because of who Donnie is. He questions things and does not take things for what they are. He wants to address the problems, and not run away and escape them in the dreamy dreamy love songs. Love songs have to be real. These topics are happening in the United States, which is the colored section. Donnie explains: "My last name is Johnson and I am a negro, and negroes are mainly from Africa. There are Johnson's, Anderson's, Gaye's that are white in the United States that are my cousin. But people refuse to look at that. These are all our stories. And every white person is not against me, and never has been. There were abolitionists that died for slavery, because they thought slavery was wrong. It is a very complex story in the United States of America. If there is an african-american person with the last name Bush, who says they are not kin to George Bush, our president. We are all from the same people. And there were many masters that slept with the slaves. And fathered many children. That is why we have a variety of shades in the negro culture. People that are passed for white that identify themselves as black. There are people that are my color and even darker, that we know are black. I have cousins that are very light, extremely light. We are all kin, we have the same great great great grandparents."
First black this first black that
Donnie grew up in Atlanta. In Atlanta's history Maynard Jackson was the first black mayor and Andrew Young was the first black from the south that became an U.S. congressman. This is what Donnie means when he sings "The first black this, the first black that, give me the truth and not the facts" in the title track of "The Colored Section" Because in America you always hear the First black that.. about all the people who have so called "Made it", that are negro, but Donnie feels that without negroes in America, there would definitly be no American story. He says: "We were in every fase of it, wether it would be good or bad, most of the industrial age was built off the American negro. We invented ooh so many things, that we use today and take for granted. But nobody will know that. And a lot of things were even patented by white inventors, because it was against the law for a negro to patent anything" As for "give me the truth and not the facts", Donnie explains "Just give me what it is. They twist the story a lot here. Even in my history books we did not have a lot of black history. But we had more than our parents. Our kids have more than we have. The first model for the statue of liberty was a negro woman. But a lot of people will never know that. We don't look at the truth we just look at the facts. We look at what we have known to be true."
In the love songs on "The Colored Section" you won't find words like boy, girl, man, woman. The reason is that Donnie wants to make his love songs accessible for everybody, giving it an universal appeal. Whether you are male or female, he wants everybody being able to sing his songs without feeling that the person has to change the lyric. Donnie starts singing "Nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy.. but I have to go sing girl" The song is My Guy, My Girl is from the Temptations. "People have to change it up and do all of that." Songs that have words like "You and I", "It's about us" tend to hit more. You never hear many female's singing She and male's singing He because they would not play it on the radio.
Donnie hopes to achieve with his CD: "a better understanding, acceptance of the truth and the evolution of the way we think and the way we relate to eachother. Because we would rather have war than talk and be fair and reasonable. We relate on animalistic level, and I feel that we, including myself, should rise higher. I cannot identify with the animalistic behaviours such as killing, raping and bombing."